Tuesday, December 25, 2012

For today, Brother Blue

 If we are very lucky, we meet a few Teachers in the course of our lives. If we're even luckier we notice when they appear.

Brother Blue was my Teacher, as he was for many others. Today is the celebration of another Teacher and, whether or not you are a Christian or a deist,  it's worth taking a moment and remembering the wisdom we've been lucky enough to receive.

My gift to you today. Some wisdom from my Teacher and friend, Brother Blue. Thanks to Seth Itzkan for this video, taken a few years before Blue died.

 Director George Romero cast Brother Blue as Merlin in his film, Knight Riders. It's not a great movie, but it's one with great intentions. The photos are from the set, thanks to Blue's wife, Ruth Hill.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, December 21, 2012

The stories we need

Last night I had the honor of being the featured storyteller at Massmouth's Bring Back the Light traditional story slam. A traditional story slam is a storytelling event focused on myths, folk and fairy tales, as opposed to the true, personal stories usually told at slams. Like any slam, traditional story slams have themes and last night's, appropriate for the date, was Bring Back the Light.

It was a lovely evening. The open telling was really good, each teller stretching to give the audience something wonderful. The room was full of good cheer. Each story was more or less on theme. One teller, Bruce Marcus, talked about how there are many ways of bringing back the light; one way is to stand up to bullies. The air in the room shifted when he said that. The theme, Bring Back the Light, suddenly became so much bigger. Sandy Hook was in the room with us.

And then Bruce told his story, about an old woman who, through luck and habit, keeps robbers from her door. We laughed together, creating more light and warmth. The unspeakable had been named and we survived.

My set was after the slam. I told four stories, three short and one long. The first three concerned the sun, moon and stars. Lovely stories and meaningful, I was in the flow and the set was going well. When I started my last story I could feel something shift inside me. I wasn't surprised.

I think many storytellers have a few pieces that are protean, that change shape more than the others. I'm not talking about the usual way that stories change shape, based on the moment and time constraints, but stories that reshape themselves in deep and fundamental ways based on the needs of the teller and listeners. Stories that possess a kind of magic. I have a few of these, mostly ancient tales and mostly stories I tell infrequently.

This is one of them.

I've always loved the Greek myths, in large part because they are so human. The ancient texts tell of heroes weeping, gods raging, moments of passion and doldrum. They are deeply relatable stories. And the perfect Greek myth for this time of year, for the dark and bringing back the light, is Demeter and Persephone.

My telling is from Demeter's point of view. How much she loves her daughter and how her heart breaks when she is stolen away. Her grief and the lengths to which she will go to restore her to the land of the living. All of this is from the text, I have only given it modern form and shape.

But as I was telling it, oh, I realized that right now we are collectively Demeter, collectively grieving lost children, collectively wondering if we would starve the world, go to hell and back to rescue our lost loved ones and knowing the answer is yes. As I told, I realized I was telling an ancient story of this modern moment. The story wrapped itself around me and I honestly can't tell you what I said. I became an oracle and let the words we needed spill out of me. Sure, the story had the structure I've used every time (the Greeks gave that to me) but the story became something more, in this moment, this telling, this world.

Stories can do that sometimes.

Brother Blue talked about how we tell stories to heal this broken world. And Elizabeth Ellis says that storytelling is a way to give someone else a roadmap through hell. Sometimes we tell stories so we can think about the unthinkable, in a collective moment. We realize we are not alone. They become what we need, not just what we want to tell or hear.

It was not my intent to tell this story for those reason last night. I am so glad that the story was wiser than I was.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In gratitude for Tuesday nights

Marty Levin tells
at Tuesday night storytelling 
For most Tuesday nights over the last 20 years, I have listened to and told stories with a group of passionate storytellers. Sometimes it's been in a basement bookstore, other times in a library, most recently it's been in an art gallery. Tuesday nights have been my church; tonight was the last time I was a regular member of this congregation. It's sweet and sad and appropriate and I am so grateful. Let me explain.

Twenty years ago I went to an evening of storytelling hosted by Brother Blue. It was part of a regular storytelling series, one of the first in the country. I was so excited and so scared. I listened to all of the other tellers thinking they each were incredible and, when it was my turn, stood up with knees shaking and told in front of an audience for the first time. I told a story about life and death, wishes and capability. Brother Blue and Ruth listened with utter intensity, the way they always did, and at the end of it I knew my life was on a different course. I knew I would always tell stories, though I didn't necessarily know how.

What I didn't know then was how this community would become a vital part of my life. Over the last 20 years they have seen me through cancer, we have celebrated and cried and grieved together, they have watched me fall in love and, throughout it all, they have supported me. When I told this community that I was going to make storytelling my life's work, that I was answering the call, they responded with, "yes!" And when I told them about my failures and triumphs, sorrows and joys, they listened. They have loved me and held me in their hearts. I am who I am because of them. We have become a family.

Like the best of families, they have given me the space to grow up and change, the opportunity to experiment and a homebase to come back to. They have strengthened and embarrassed me, and straightened me out when I've drifted. Like a family, I have grown up, from novice to leader. And, like family, the time has come to leave the nest.

In a few weeks I'm moving 1500 miles away. I won't be able to come to Tuesday nights again anytime soon. But I bring with me everything they have taught me. What works and what doesn't. How to love and how to listen. And I bring with me the truths I've learned from Brother Blue. This community doesn't need me to preach the gospel of story to them.

But other places do.

And that's what I'm going to do. I'm taking all I have learned, all I have been loved into understanding, and I'm spreading the word. That the stories we tell matter. That listening can save a life. That storytelling can change the world.

Tonight at my last-for-awhile Tuesday night storytelling I told the same story I told that first night. I wasn't afraid this time. Instead I put all of my love and gratitude into the words of life and death, wishes and capability. And I remembered that sometimes, happily ever after really means once upon a time.

As my partner Kevin and I drove away for the last time, drove towards our next adventure, we talked about how grateful we are. What we are taking with us. And how much we are looking forward to sharing what we have learned, from both Brother Blue and from this community.

Thank you for everything. From the middle of the middle of me to the middle of the middle of you, I love you forever and ever and ever, ah.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, December 14, 2012

Grief in action

I am sitting in a cafe.
I am sitting in a cafe in Kansas City, Missouri.
I am sitting in a cafe in Kansas City, Missouri, watching crows wheel and turn against the grey sky.
I am sitting in a cafe in Kansas City, Missouri, watching crows wheel and turn against the grey sky, crying for the almost 30 people who died in Connecticut today. For the teddy bears that will wait for their child. For the many sleepless nights that will follow.

I will not talk here about gun laws; those of you who know me know my stance, those of you who disagree with me will not be swayed by my arguments.

I will not talk here about the media frenzy; those of you who know me know that I watch in awe and horror as we create modern mythologies in a moment only to tear them down a heartbeat later. By next week the media will be admiring the next new horror.

I will not talk here about my overwhelming ache at what happens now to the family of the young man who did this, my wonder at what led him there or what demons drove him.

What I want to talk about is this. How we treat each other matters. How we treat each other in the wake of something like this especially matters. We can create change and prevent tragedy only by beginning with a willingness to admit that change is necessary, tragedy is preventable and your viewpoint as well as mine may bring something valuable to the table. When we treat each other as if we are all human, as if we all have value, then we can take this collective moment and do something to prevent it from happening again. And again. And again.

If we let events like this harden us, make us more cynical, more convinced of our own rightness and their wrongness, we will never create change. We must be willing to let those we consider the opposition have a voice. What’s more, we must listen and ask the deeper questions. Why do you feel this way? What really matters here? When we ask and answer these questions we may find more common ground than we expected and, from there, we can build consensus to create change. 

We all know kids shouldn’t be shot. Let’s start with that. We all know our mental health care system has significant room for improvement. Let’s go from there. 

I have no illusions that one writer, one storyteller can individually effect the course of the world. But I do know that collectively, we are unstoppable. That if we take our collective grief and horror, if we put aside our smaller rivalries and disagreements, that we can create tremendous change. That we can together craft a new and better story that no one - not the media nor our legislators - can ignore. But we must decide to act, to use the pain we feel as fuel for passion that leads to action.

Let us tell a story of a future where we have learned from the events of today, of last week, of this year and the years prior. Let these deaths be the last time something like this happens and we remain voiceless. Let us ask what we can do that might create a world where we do more than weep, where instead we stand up and say, “No, that is not the story I will tell. That is not the world I will live in.” 

Let us act. And, in the midst of action let us be civil, let us use words as tools not as weapons. We have enough weapons already. 

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Endings and beginnings

My life has been a bit of a wild ride lately. I’m not complaining, merely observing, that having a birthday, attending two intellectual conferences (presenting at one), deciding to move half-way across the country, quitting a job and leaping into self-employment, all within the space of two months, is a lot. I’ve had to reset my thinking about the world and my place in it several times in rapid succession.

While overwhelming, I think this is good. When we become too comfortable, we cease growing; it’s these periods of rapid acceleration that help us see who we really are and uncover new potential, but boy, this has been a roller-coaster. It’s included quite a few goodbyes and hellos with more coming and, I’ve realized, this is something we’re not taught to handle, not in school, not in work, not in most of our lives.

Endings and beginnings happen all the time. From the first time we go to school (both an ending and a beginning) to our deaths (an ending and maybe a beginning) we have repeated opportunities to shed the old and embrace the new. American culture, at least, teaches us that it’s the beginnings that matter, far more than the endings, yet I think there are strong lessons to be learned from each. The last few months have really highlighted that for me.

Last week I left a job I’d held for over 12 years. In that time I’d grown, stagnated, succeeded, failed, helped and hurt the organization I worked for. Over my last few weeks at this company I had many people tell me that they didn’t want me to leave, that the place would never be the same. I didn’t really know how to respond at first but, as I thought about it, I realized this was an opportunity not only for me, but for the organization. Sure, I represented something there. Sure, I hold knowledge that may not be replaced. But my absence allows the company to look for new solutions to the holes I had filled, find new and possibly better ways to solve problems. It allows the organization to grow mindfully, just as I am growing mindfully by leaving. I take with me a wealth of experience and lessons learned - it wasn’t time wasted. It’s at once an ending and a beginning.

It’s the same thing as I leave the New England storytelling community for a cross-country move. 
This is the community that has nurtured me, held me, shaped me and helped me become the teller and person I am now. And I’ve had an impact on this community, organizing events, mentoring new tellers and so on. As I leave, there are voids that will open up, places into which others can grow. As I leave, it’s the end of a period of my life, but a new one begins. It’s a time of rich possibility. 

There is that trite saying, For every door that closes a window opens. I don’t know if this is always true, but I do know that endings create opportunity for reflection and growth that we would not otherwise receive. Endings create space we might not have otherwise noticed. Endings are a kind of beginning, if only because they provide an opportunity for a pause in the midst of an otherwise busy world. I wish we valued endings more, or at least were more willing to talk about them - even the hardest of endings give us opportunities to do what we might not have otherwise done.

The hero needs to ride off into the sunset before she can find her next adventure. The town needs to bid her adieu before they can build the next great thing. We need to cry, grieve, mourn before we can move on. Buried in each ending is possibility and the potential for new worlds. Even in midst of our own deaths, if we are lucky, there is opportunity for new experience and growth. Even as we say goodbye to those we love, we can create new stories, new memories and new relationships.

Treasure your endings and do not consider them failures. They are the universe reminding us that now is the time to grow, to go, to take wing and fly. We never know what might happen next.

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was 
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky 
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy. 
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, 
but just coming to the end of triumph.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Once a survivor, always a survivor

When I was 26 I had cancer. I'm fine now, so please don't worry; next year I plan to celebrate 20 years cancer-free (don't worry, you'll all be invited to the party).

When I was first diagnosed I went through all the stuff you hear about cancer patients going through - I contemplated my mortality, I cried, I fought and so on. And I was lucky, I survived with remarkably few aftereffects. But I didn't think of myself as a survivor for a long time. I remember, about a year after it was all over, talking about it with a friend and she said, "You will always be someone who had cancer." Almost 20 years later I am still understanding what that means.

So when I saw the xkcd strip below, I surprised myself by bursting into tears.

I am reminded that we are always survivors. I will always be a cancer survivor. You will always be a survivor of whatever it is that has honed and shaped you. And that survival is worth celebrating.

My biopsy-versary is April 19th. I mark it every year, my reminder that I am still here.

Find your survivor-versary and mark it. You are worth celebrating.

courtesy xkcd.com under this creative commons license. Thanks.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A fairy tale told in tweets

Image courtesy of tatter-hood.deviantart.com
Earlier this week I conducted an experiment - I told a fairly lengthy fairy tale 140 characters at a time. It was a challenge, picking the right images that would be interesting in each and every tweet, but I'm glad I did it. I learned a lot about narrative structure, imagery and twitter.

Some of my followers really enjoyed it, others found it challenging to read in such small pieces. I also had some problems getting the autoposts to work with Facebook.

I thought it might be a relief for all if I posted the whole story here, so, here it is, hashtags and reminders removed. You can also see it in tweet form here, using the hashtag #tweetale. It's somewhat disjointed as I included reminders for episodes and others commented, which is what twitter is all about.

By Asbjornsen and Moe
Adapted by Laura Packer

Once upon a time there were a king and queen with no children. The queen's heart was tight with grief, loneliness.

In her sorrow, the queen sought out the local wise woman, "Can you help me in my loneliness? Can you give me a child?"

The wise woman at first refused, but as persuaded by gentle talk and fine food and perhaps a glass or two of wine.

"Wash yourself with two buckets of water then throw them under the bed. In the morning, two flowers will have grown. But!"

"One will be fair and one foul," said the wise woman. "Eat only the fair one and we will see what we will see."

So the queen did as she was told. She washed and threw the water under the bed, the slept at her husband's side.

In the morning she saw two flowers, one foul and one fair, as the wise woman predicted. She ate the fair and…

…it was the sweetest thing she'd ever tasted. In her hunger and greed she ate the second and its taste was…

…strange and left her longing for something more. "I;m sure it will neither hurt nor harm me." Soon enough…

…her belly began to swell and the queen could feel her child twisting and turning within. She was brought to bed and…

…soon enough with a push and a grunt a baby girl was born, most peculiar and strange,e riding a goat and carrying a wooden spoon!

The queen looked at her odd daughter with dismay. "You aren't what I wanted!" she cried.

"Don't worry, mother," the girl replied, "My sister will be along in a moment and I wager you'll like her better."

And soon enough, with another push and grunt, the sweetest baby girl anyone had ever seen was born to the queen.

So the two girls, twins, grew up side by side. The pretty one pleased everyone she met, while the homely insisted on wearing rags and was called Tatterhood.

No matter how their parents and nurses tried to separate them, the sisters loved one another, and spent their days and nights together. #

One year, around this season, the girls were in their room when they heard a terrible noise outside.

Tatterhood, not being one to ignore a challenge, peeked out and saw a bevy of trolls in the courtyard.

"Keep my sister safe," she ordered, and rode out on her goat to chase the trolls away.

The whole palace creaked and groaned as if every joint and beam were going to be torn out of its place.

The fair princess was so worried about her sister that she opened the door a crack and peeked out. No sooner did she see…

…Tatterhood whacking the trolls about the head with her spoon when her own head was lopped off by a troll and…

…replaced by a calf's head. The trolls ran away yelping and laughing. When Tatterhood saw her sister, the poor girl began to moo.

Needless to say, Tatterhood was peeved, but announced that she believed she could make this right. "All I need is a ship of my own."

"All I need is a ship of my own with neither sailors nor crew," she declared. Her parents objected by Tatterhood was firm.

No sooner was she given her ship than she and her sister climbed aboard and they sailed off on their own.

They saw many wonders while at sea. Mermaids playing violins and whales singing in harmony, but…

…Tatterhood sailed straight for the land of trolls and witches. As soon as they dropped anchors beasts swarmed.

Some were fearsome and others sly, but Tatterhood, fearsome and sly, wrapped her wraps about her and sallied forth.

She rode amongst them on her goat, beating them on the head with her spoon, until she saw…

…her sisters head hanging as pretty as could be from a window in the castle. She snatched it back and…

…made her way to her ship where, as quick as a tweet, she plucked off the calf's head and gave her sister back her own beauty.

Beauty restored, Tatterhood and her sister sailed across seas stormy and calm, until they found themselves in the land of…

…a widower king, father to one son. As the ship anchored in the harbor, Tatterhood rode her goat on the deck with her hair streaming behind.

The local sailors were amazed! Surely there was someone else on board? "Yes!" cried Tatterhood, "my sister is with me."

"But no one except the king himself may see her," and Tatterhood galloped her goat until the deck thundered.

The king heard of the girl on the goat and the hidden sister. Intrigued, he came to the port. Tatterhood brought our her sister...

Her beauty was so great and her gentleness so clear that the king fell in love with her immediately. He brought both women to the palace…

…and asked the sister for her hand. "No," she replied, "I will marry you only if your son will marry my sister Tatterhood."

The prince was dismayed and disgusted, this unwashed, brazen thing, riding a goat and bearing a spoon couldn't be his bride!

But soon enough, out of love for his father, he agreed to marry Tatterhood. HIs sorrow was as great as his father's joy.

The brewers and bakers, cooks and seamstresses worked for three days and nights, preparing for the wedding. On the fourth day…

…the wedding party set out for the church. The king and his bride were first, each as lovely as the other.

The since on his mount and Tatterhood on her goat followed behind. To look at the prince, he went not to his wedding but execution.

"Why don't you talk," asked Tatterhood. "What can I talk to a goat girl about?" he replied.

"You might ask me why I ride on this ugly goat," Tatterhood taunted. The prince sighed and asked.

"Is it an ugly goat? Why, it's the most beautiful horse a bride ever did ride," and the goat became the finest horse.

They rode further and the prince, in his sorrow and amazement knew not what to say. "Why not ask me why I carry a spoon?"

The prince, not being a dullard, asked, "Tatterhood, why do you carry that spoon?" She replied…

"Is it an ugly spoon? Why it's the loveliest silver fan a bride ever carried," and so it was.

By now the prince was coming to his senses, so he asked, "And why do you wear rags?" Tatterhood smiled.

"Are they rags? Why I think it's the loveliest gown a bride ever did wear," and so it was.

And finally the prince asked, "Why is your face so long and dirty?" "Is it?" replied Tatterhood…

"My sister may be lovely, but I am ten times lovelier still," and so she was.

The king and the sister, the prince and Tatterhood, all drank deep of the wedding cup.

Their happiness spilled over from that day to this. And I know this is true, because my slippers are worn from the dancing.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, November 12, 2012

Story quote of the week: On coming into the world

Though I was reluctant to be born, I was attracted by the music. I had plans. I was entrusted with carrying voices, songs, and stories to grow and release into the world, to be of assistance and inspiration. These were my responsibility. I am not special. It is this way for everyone. We enter into a family story, and then other stories based on tribal clans, on tribal towns and nations, lands, countries, planetary systems, and universes. Yet we each have our own individual soul story to tend.

~ Joy Harjo, Mvskoke/Creek poet & musician

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Another trip around the sun

Today is my birthday. I love birthdays, mine and others. I think they offer us a wonderful (albeit arbitrary) reminder that our lives our fleeting, our connections precious, the world extraordinary and our selves unique. They give us an excuse to celebrate our existence.

As I have in past years (you can look at other Octobers) I'd like to offer you things I know or am grateful for, one for each year of my life. Really, these are things I need to remind myself of on a regular basis.

This is also my fifth birthday post, the fifth birthday of this blog. So happy birthday, world, thank you for reading me for five years. It's nice to be in kindergarten with you.
  1. You. Whether I know you or not, thank you for being in this world, for your breath, your story, your kindnesses and your song.
  2. Assume kindness first. Both in yourself and others. Yes, you risk being hurt, but you may also be wondrously surprised. I once heard amazing stories from a man who stole $200 from me. Looking back it was worth it. He probably needed the money more than I did, and I know I needed those tales.
  3. I am grateful for those times when I remember to be kind to myself.
  4. So please, be kind to your self.
  5. I am grateful for the natural world, for its beauty and power and the fact that we still have yet to entirely rule it. 
  6. Everyone, humans included, needs something bigger than themselves, be it god(s), storms, science or love. Be grateful for these reminders especially when you emerge from them altered but unscathed. I may change my mind about this, based on the coming storm, but to date I have found this to be true. 
  7. And if those big things do scathe you then ask yourself why, how, what you might do differently next time.
  8. Be like the palm. Bend in the wind before you break. Be resilient.
  9. I am grateful for good food shared with those I love. 
  10. Conversation.
  11. Oh, I love listening to the world around me. To stories, to strangers, to random sounds. Listen more.
  12. Take time alone. We each have different needs for alone time, but we all need it. I love alone time. 
  13. I love alone time in part because it makes me that much more grateful for shared time.
  14. Work hard at whatever you're doing, even if it's a task you'd rather avoid. If nothing else, you'll end it sooner. But don't be half-assed.
  15. Play. I am so grateful for play, for my inner five year old who sees the world as full of wonder and giggles and still believes in the tooth fairy. 
  16. Be a good loser.
  17. Be a better winner.
  18. Feel your feelings. I am grateful to them all and have found the hard ones are easier if I let myself feel them.
  19. I am grateful for the mistakes I have made. And moreso for the times when I have learned from them.
  20. Read. I love reading and sometimes let other things get in the way. Let written language take you away.  If you usually read fiction try some non-fiction. And if non-fiction is your love, try something fantastical.
  21. Tell more stories. Listen to more. Make music, even if you don't sing well. And listen to more music, especially music outside your comfort zone.
  22. Accept love. I am so grateful for all the people who have loved me.
  23. And accept like! Being liked is distinct from being loved, so thank you!
  24. Be likable.
  25. But don't be afraid to be unlikable if you have something to stand up for. A wise woman once said to me I think a day when I haven't pissed someone off just wasn't a very a good day. She's right. Care about the world. Care about what you do. Care about yourself. Don't be afraid to piss someone off.
  26. Stop for pedestrians. Even if they aren't in the crosswalk.
  27. Learn to stop in general. I am grateful for my intermittent meditation practice. Find a way to stop and let the world move around you.
  28. I am grateful you've made it this far! It's a long list and getting longer each year.
  29. I am grateful to those who have gone before me. Thank you for your work, sacrifice, love, humor, determination.
  30. I am grateful to those who will come after me. I can't wait to see what you will make of the world and, knowing I won't be here, excited to think that you will see more than I ever will.
  31. Take time to notice your other senses. Smell the air. Touch things (even if you get into trouble sometimes, say, in museums). Close your eyes and listen. Really look at one thing. Taste with abandon. Be a sensualist.
  32. I am grateful for people doing the best they can, even when it may not be enough.
  33. And in turn, do the best you can, even if it's only a little bit.
  34. I love bad jokes. If you know any, I'd love to hear them!
  35. By the time I was 35, I was 9 years cancer free. I am so grateful that it hasn't come back.
  36. I am grateful for my body. Even with its aches and pains, I am grateful for my joints, my muscles and organs, my ligaments and skin, every part.
  37. Don't be afraid to be foolish. I never would have become a storyteller if I was afraid of being foolish sometimes.
  38. Let the people you love know. Don't wait.
  39. Don't lie about your age. Embrace each of your years as earned.
  40. Learn new things, regardless of your age. I have a friend, near 90, who has fallen in love with the band Queen.
  41. Recognize that there will be things that confuse and frustrate you, especially about other people. You can't change them. Accept that this is the way it is and try to at least be amused.
  42. Don't be afraid to touch people when you hug them. So do it, hug more.
  43. Love yourself.
  44. Love the world.
  45. Do it again.
Thanks for coming along on this ride with me.

p.s. This is me giving my Uncle Meyer a kiss when I was maybe 4. He died over a decade ago. I still love him and I'm so glad he knew how much I loved him.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, October 26, 2012

Celebration countdown day 9: a love note

As you know, I've been counting down to my birthday with things I love, in the hopes that it might inspire us all to love the world more. I've missed a few days, but that's okay.

Well, tomorrow is my birthday. Over the last few days I've covered:
Really, these are all love notes to being alive. 

There are so many other things I could list. Dim sum, The Beatles, massage, dancing even when you suck at it, storytelling, eavesdropping, apples, the ocean, the feel and sound and smell of rain, the crunch of snow, so many people, laughing until my stomach hurts and and and...

The world is vast and possible. Our lives are what we make of them.

Love the world. Love yourself. Thrive as best you can. And happy birthday to us all, because really, every day is our birthday, a new day of life in this world.

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Celebration countdown day 8: Adagio for strings

I'm sorry I didn't post yesterday. I had a gig and things got a little hairy.

Today's birthday gift to the world is this, one of those pieces of music that moves me outside of myself and helps me in every way. It reminds me that this moment is but a moment, that this feeling will change, that I can soar and dream and grieve and be fully human.

Please take a listen to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, opus 11.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, October 22, 2012

Celebration count down day 7: Being the fox

I love this poem. Be the fox.


by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything made.
Be afraid to know you neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something that won't compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot understand.
Praise ignorance,
for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.
Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion--put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap for power,
please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head in her lap.
Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions
of your mind, lose it.
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn't go.

Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Celebration count down day 6: the smell of autumn

When I was a little girl my favorite season was autumn. I think mostly this was because my birthday is in autumn (as you know, from this series of celebration posts) but I have come to love autumn independent of my personal association.

While I could list all kinds of things I love about autumn (the colors, the sweet melancholy, Halloween) it is the smell I most associate with autumn and find most fleeting. Like autumn itself.

That sweet aroma of leaf decay. The tang of woodsmoke. The crispness of the air. All of this smells like the passage of time to me. It is this smell that I imagine inhabiting the realm of fairy tales. It is this smell that I think of when I imagine my childhood and when I think of wandering towards death.

I love this smell. And I love that it is here only for maybe six weeks each year. Go outside. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the moment while it's here.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Celebration count down day 5: Fairy Tales

As you know, I'm celebrating my birthday by sharing things I love. So far, you can hear a poem, consider time, get the chills and admire the sunset.

Today I wanted to talk about fairy tales. I've written about them before, about their meaning, use, power and how to tell them, but I've not really discussed why I love them so. And I do. My life has been shaped by fairy tales (which isn't to imply it is a fairy tale).

When I was a child my parents would tell me stories every day. They read to me, sure, but they also would lie down with me in the dark and spin stories out of the air. No wonder I'm a storyteller. My father would make up stories, often thrilling tales or spooky adventures, while my mother would tell me folk and fairy tales. Among the stories she told were Grimm's tales, including One Eye, Two Eyes and Three Eyes, a Cinderella variant that she learned from her mother who learned it from her mother and so on. It's a secret thrill that I know some of the Grimm's stories, learned not from books but directly from the oral tradition.

I told these stories to my friends. I loved them so much that I went on to obtain my degree in Folklore and Mythology, writing my honor's thesis on the female hero in Western European folktale. And 20 years ago I started telling stories as a performing artist beginning with fairy tales. One of the first fairy tales I told was One Eye, Two Eyes and Three Eyes. And then I told East of the Sun, West of the Moon, a Beauty and the Beast variant that I fell in love with as a little girl. The heroine is wily, clever, determined and unafraid. After all, she rides away on a bear whom she loves for his own fierceness as well as his hidden human side.

And that's why I love fairy tales. They are fierce and human and basic explorations of our nature. When we hear or read a fairy tale we not only are learning something about what it is to be human, something about what we need to survive, we are giving ourselves permission to be more human. To be the wily heroine, the strong-hero, even the wicked villain. Because these stories (in their literary form) are stripped of modern emotion and explanation, we have moe white space within which to place our selves. They are basic, stories of how to survive in the wide world and why the wide world needs exploring.

What's more, fairy tales give us permission to believe that magic just might exist. That if we are daring and strong and smart and not afraid to call a pin a sword - or even just really lucky - the world will open to us. They encourage us to believe in bigger things and strive to be heroes in our own stories.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, October 19, 2012

Celebration count down day 4: Sunset

I'm sharing things I love, to celebrate my birthday. I started here. Some are sublime, some silly.

I know, it sounds trite, but I love evening. It's really that I love transitional times. It certainly can be argued that every moment is a transitional moment - it's not as though time moves any differently at noon than it does at 6:40 - but when the world is on the cusp, that movement is more obvious.

I love these times because it's when I notice the moment of the earth. It's when I notice our position in the solar system, in the galaxy, in the universe. It gives me an opportunity to be awake, to pause, to consider with delight my smallness in the face of things.

I have never found this to be diminishing, but an affirmation of this life, this moment, this possibility. And sunset often reminds me to stop and simply be in this life, this moment, this possibility. It's a daily opportunity to remember my place in the family of things.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Celebration count down day 3: Hammer Horror Films

In celebration of my upcoming birthday, I'm pretending I'm a hobbit and giving gifts to my friends. I'm sharing things I love with you. Go back a few days to hear a poem and consider time.

Today I'm going all out, revealing myself to the world as a lover of slow, methodical, overly dramatic horror movies from the 1950s and 60s. I love Hammer Horror films.

Hammer Horror was founded in the 1930s, but really hit their stride in the 50s and 60s when they produced dozens of gothic horror films with the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The women were always buxom, the villains evil with a touch of dark sexiness. As a child I would stay up late with my friend Carla, glued to the tv as we watched Dracula seduce beautiful women (I would hide my eyes when he bit, Carla would tell me to pretend it was a love story) or shuddered as plague overtook a village, turning everyone into monsters. It was wonderful, delicious, campy horror.

The pacing of these films could be called methodical. Rather than being driven by dialogue, the scripts relied on the actors' facial expressions and the melodramatic soundtracks. Some might call them ponderous. I love them. I love the way the story spools out to inexorable doom. I also love the costuming and set decoration. I don't know what life was really like in the Victorian era, but I'm certain it was full of red velvet and handlebar mustaches.

Hammer Horror now has a wonderful YouTube channel, where you can see full length movies., classics like Captain Chronos, Vampire Hunter and X the Unknown. I thought you might enjoy this trailer for The Devil's Bride. I especially like Christopher Lee's naughty little goatee.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Celebration count down day 2: Time

 I decided to give the world some birthday presents leading up to my birthday. Yesterday I gave you Lucille Clifton.

Today I wanted to give you the gift of the passage of time. It seemed fitting since this set of posts is about birthdays, the turn of the year.

I struggle with time, I think most of us do. There's too little of it, where did it go, I can't believe it. It can be hard. What's more, time seems utterly inexorable and unforgiving. And if you start to delve into the theories of it, well, that could take all the time in the world.

But time is a gift. It means that no matter where we are in our lives, things will change. No matter your grief, your pain, your sorrow, it will alter. Equally, it means that no matter your joy, your delight, your pleasure, that too, is mutable. Time is the great equalizer, reminding us all that each moment is precious. And we get to choose how we spend the time of our lives.

I fail to do this every day. But when I remember, when I choose, it makes all the difference. My daily commute, stuck in traffic and cursing other drivers, becomes instead a chance to muse, a chance to consider how the roadway is different today from yesterday. My frustrations with the everyday routine instead each become opportunities to greet them differently. My loves become more precious.

You can do this, too. Time is a gift. It helps us remember that while we are finite, we are capable of wonders in midst of the infinite.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Come celebrate with me

I love birthdays, mine and others'. My birthday is on the 27th and, in celebration of being alive in this glorious, confusing, thrilling, unsettling and exquisite world, I'd like to give you some birthday presents. Every day, between now and the day I turn 45 (45!? how did I get here?) I will post something I love that I'd like to share with you. I think the hobbits have the right idea - give presents on our birthdays to those with whom we share the journey.

So, to start, Lucille Clifton celebrates.

See you tomorrow for another one.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day, dedicated by the World Health Organization to open discussion about mental health issues and needs. This year's theme is "Depression: A Global Crisis."

We are surrounded by people who have invisible illnesses. Whether it's depression or anxiety or an eating disorder or psychosis or addiction or... So many people struggle through this world and we have no way of knowing unless we are told. They have every right to not tell us, but this is a reminder that we must all move through the world with compassion. We don't know what burdens others carry.

That jerk who cut you off in traffic? Maybe they're having a panic attack and need to get to the side of the road. Maybe they are rushing to help a friend. Or maybe they are a jerk. You don't know.

Your co-worker who is glaring at everyone and sighing all the time? Maybe their meds were adjusted and they feel crummy. Maybe they were up half the night with insomnia. Or maybe they're just in a really bad mood. You don't know.

Your family member who hurt your feelings? Maybe they're depressed and aren't as aware of others as usual. Maybe they are afraid because they're hearing voices. Or maybe it's just family politics. You don't know.

This is a call to compassion. This is a call to the kind voice, asking if everything is okay, and then being content if the answer is "yes." This is a call to appropriate boundaries, that we cannot save others but only offer them resources to save themselves. This is a call to helping people get help, recognizing that care is available, acknowledging that mental illness is not a choice but we can choose to try to get better.

This is a call to a kinder world. One where we take a deep breath and remember that we each carry our own burdens.

If you or someone you care about needs mental health assistance, start here. If you or someone you love is suicidal call 1-800-SUICIDE. Get help. The world needs you.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The oldest of friends

I've been in a bit of a tizzy lately, my life full of the unpleasant soundtrack of resistance winning. I keep making excuses - too busy, too much work, too tired to write or tell or create. (Keep going, I promise this isn't a whine.)

This afternoon, in my busy-ness, I decided to put off my real work of writing and thinking and dreaming to take a box of donation books to the library. Like many of you, I'm sure, I have a tendency to collect books and my shelves, they run over. When I can't stand it anymore I give some to the library.

Once I dropped off the box I was drawn in by that wonderful scent, the paper and binding and patient smell of the library. As a child some of my happiest times were there. In the library, no one cared that I was a bookworm, no one cared that I lived in imagination more than the real world, no one cared that I was often a little bit different.

So I wandered the stacks this afternoon, listening to school kids pretend to work and really flirt, admiring the dusty sunlight and running my fingers across my old friend, the Dewey decimal numbers. And then I stopped.

I was in the young adult section, fiction, in front of the L's.

Now, like many of you, some of my best friends have been books. They have carried me through some of the hardest times in my life, reassured me, kept me from being alone. My fingers had stopped on A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I hadn't read it in at least 20 years. This was an old friend I'd long abandoned.

Those of you who have read this book may skip this paragraph. For the rest of you, it's young adult sci-fi and so much more. Published in the early 1960s, it tells the story of Meg Murray, who doesn't fit in school or really anywhere else, and her family. She, her youngest brother, Charles Wallace and their friend, Calvin, go on a universe-wide quest to rescue her father and the world from a great darkness, with some unusual allies. It's spiritual, political, passionate and a gem. Read it.

As I hunkered on my sofa this afternoon and consumed the book in one sitting, I wasn't just this 44 year old woman who is too busy and too tired. I was again my 10 and 12 and 15 year old self, the one who didn't fit in, the one who thought she would never find her place, the one who was lost and wanted to be on another planet more than anything else. I was my 26 year old self who had cancer. I was my 31 year old self, both heart-broken and in love. And again, I am my 44 year old self, wondering who I will be next and if I am brave enough to leap.

I curled up and wept as I read. I cried for all the selves I had been and all those I will be, for the way time is maleable. I cried for the lonely girl and scared young woman and confused adult. I cried with relief that all of these people co-exist in this one body. I cried with joy that this old friend, these pages, these words, were waiting for me, to remind me of who I had been, who I am and who I might yet be.

I am so grateful to Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin and Mrs. Whatsis and Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which and Aunt Beast and especially Madeleine L'Engle. Thank you for waiting for me all of these years. Thank you for welcoming me back and reminding me of who I was and of the possibility before me.

All of this leaves me wondering what other books might be worth revisiting, what other lessons my 5 or 15 year old self might have in store for me now. And what books you've re-read lately. I'd love to hear about it. And who knows, maybe we will find each other, in the library, checking out our old favorites at the beginning of a new aventure.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fantastic "read" animation

This works for storytelling too!

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fiction: The True Cause of World War I. Part 4.

Time is a mysterious thing, I've written about this before. Last year - last year! - I posted 3 out of 4 episodes in my story, The True Cause of World War I. I never posted the final episode, not through creative block but through forgetfulness. My friend Beth was kind enough to to ask me if I would ever finish it. Wow. I thought I had. It's amazing, the chaos you can find when time and busyness intersect, though that's a whole other blog post.

So here it is, the long overdue conclusion. As I read through parts one-three I found myself cringing over my poor editing, but that's the way the creative process works. We practice more, we become better at our craft, we wince at our old mistakes. I'm sure I'll wince at this introduction in a year.

If you like this story please contact me before republishing, riffing on or otherwise using it. I recently had a piece of my work stolen and I'd rather that not happen again.

I would urge you to read Parts 1, 2 and 3 before you read the conclusion. It will make a lot more sense. If you can't bear it and need to forge ahead, here is the story so far:

In Part 1 we met a group of poets in the early 20th century. Language is their love, their mistress, their all-consuming passion. A new poet, John Davies, is introduced to the group. He seems naive and unlikely to be a crafter of words. He reads them a poem and they realize he is  someone extraordinary. In Part 2 John Davies reveals that he received a visitation from a heavenly messenger, who told him he was destined to write the greatest poems of his generation, all in praise of Gods return. He reads his friends a poem and they are compelled to write. Part 3 sees the poets at first enraptured by their God-given poetry, but soon they realize that all they write is praise to God, that poetry is no longer the voice of humanity, but the voice of deity. Wherever John Davies speaks his poems, all listeners stop their daily lives and sing hosanas. The world begins to grind to a halt as religious ecstasy spreads like plague. The poets want their own voices back, want to give back self-determination to humanity. In their anger and their need, they murder John Davies' heavenly visitor who brought this cursed gift to the world. As the visitor dies it offers them a great and terrible muse. They dispose of the body in the Thames. Which brings us to...

Part 4

We slunk away into the night, each to his own rooms, his own pen and paper. We didn’t see each other for a time. 

I waited and tried to write, and waited more, but I couldn’t find a word. All I could see was a flood of red on glowing white. 

After a longer time we met again, as if in agreement that it was better to be wordless together. A few of us had poems to share. John Davies had written nothing.

We pretended nothing had happened. The world seemed to be itself, full of gossip and laughter and tears. God wasn't on the lips of the fishmonger and cobbler, the maid or whore. Each went to their work and their prayers were a private thing. 

We pretended we had no need for a muse. We tried to write. Some of us did. We tried to talk. Some of us could. 

But it always rang false. John Davies no longer rushed in clutching paper, instead he sat in the corner drinking scotch. We tried to not look at him, we tried not think about what we had become.

A few months later, the Serbian Duke Ferdinand was killed. In August, the world went mad. What came to be called the Great War fell upon us.

Imagine hundreds, thousands of young men. Round faces, barely formed, peering out from under helmets. Soft hands clutching guns. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of young men rushing up hills, rushing to be slaughtered, backs arching as they fall. 

Imagine running into machine gun fire, bodies rolling down hills, pushed into mud turned red from blood. The trenches deep and thick and muddy, reeking of shit and piss and foot rot. Trenches full of the sound of the lost mumbling for their mothers, the rest of us boasting about how we wouldn’t be killed. 

Imagine the haze of gas, the terror of phosgene, knowing lungs would burn and rot but staying in trenches even as gas settled there because looking up out of the trenches was sure death. It was better to try to hold our breath and grab for the too-few masks then stick our heads up above the roiling yellow cloud that crept towards us, sucking our life away. 

Imagine us, sitting in the trenches, picking off rats one by one, ignoring the stench of a body hanging on the wires, that we could not get because then we would just be another body alongside.

The Marne



The Somme

Oh it was a great and terrible muse we unleashed upon the world.

The others are gone now. I am the only one left and I still dream of flares and shells.

Some of my friends died in the war. Some of us were just as good as dead. John Davies never wrote again. Robert and Sigfried were gunned down. Some swallowed their own guns, others drank themselves into oblivion, a few managed to eke out some kind of life after. But we never spoke of what we had done, what we saw before the war. What our words caused. 

We got what we wanted. We had a muse of mankind. Maybe because man isn’t God we were given a muse of our vengeful hearts, of our jealousy and rage, of our bravery and lies.

And I am all that is left. My joints ache. Standing here telling you has made my heart tighten as it did when I was young and in the trenches waiting to die, watching my friends die. It has made my heart tighten as it did when I heard John Davies' words. It has made my heart tighted as it did when I saw the splash of blood first dim brightness.  

We were young men. We didn’t know. We didn't know. We didn't know there could be such a consequence to our needs.

We got what we wanted and so much more. 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer
Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Creative Commons License

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On teaching storytelling

Last week my storytelling class held their final concert of the semester. It was powerfully moving, watching these storytellers, experienced and new, stand in front of an audience and tell their best. They were great. And they surprised me at the end of the concert, by publicly telling me what they appreciated about the class and my leadership. I was moved to tears.

There is an unfortunate saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach.” Bullshit. Good teachers, no matter what the topic, combine both skill in the subject and a knack for communication, an ability to translate something they may understand innately into comprehensive steps and process. It’s something to be proud of.

I am proud of the fact that, of late, I am teaching storytelling as much as I am performing. Every single time I teach, I find myself marveling at how much I love the work and what a privilege it is to be able to share my passion for this art, my thoughts on the craft and understanding of how it works, and maybe inspire some new storytellers along the way.

There is something magical that happens each time I teach storytelling. I’ve written before about the magic of telling a story. As a performer, I’m lucky enough to see the audience relax into the story, move with me, inhale the story and turn it into their own. But when I teach I see lightbulbs. Student after student enters the classroom excited, nervous and unsure. At some point they get it, they realize that not only can they tell a story, they have been telling stories their whole lives and that the stories they tell matter. A lightbulb goes off over their head and they are illuminated. Their brows clear, their eye sparkle and they become more animated. It’s amazing and it’s consistent. What’s more, the method I use teaches students to help each other. They invariably are skeptical during the first class, but by the end of the second they are fully engaged and are becoming a community. By the end of the session they trust each other and are ready to go out into the world to tell their tales. 
Over and over, I witness groups of strangers learning to support each other in new ways and blossoming within that support. 

As a performing artist, I have the rare and wonderful opportunity to share my stories with an audience. I can reach across the invisible fourth wall and interact with my listeners. It is an extraordinary thing, telling a story and knowing I have touched an audience, made them laugh, given them something to thing about. 

But when I teach storytelling, my reach becomes greater. Sure, when I perform I am sharing something with an audience of maybe thousands. But when I teach, when I help my students understand the power of their own stories, when I offer them a way to to help others, my reach becomes practically infinite. 

This is part of how I carry on Brother Blue’s legacy. This is part of how I strive to change the world, by helping people tell their stories with more confidence. This is part of what we can do for each other every day, teach what we do best and share what we know.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Advance, retreat, advance again

Please don't duplicate w/out permission. laura@laurapacker.com
I wrote recently about my deep need for white space, the time and geography that allows for creativity. I've just returned from a week of white space, time spent in the Adirondacks on retreat. While the patterns in my life that drove me to eliminate white space from my life haven't really changed, I have had a chance to spend time thinking, writing and staring out at the world without interruption.

Creativity is the residue of time wasted.
              - Albert Einstein

Prior to my week away I'd been driving myself forward, having set some substantial goals and pushing relentlessly to meet them. What I'd forgotten was that meeting goals, or even working towards them, or even simply being alive in the world, results in change. Meeting some of my goals made things happen, so I had new obligations to meet, new opportunities to seize. I filled up all of my spare time with actions, advancement, motion. I'd forgotten to be still, which is part of my work, part of anyone's work, to find stillness in the chaos so we can see who we have become and what we can offer.

One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere rushing on.
              - D.H. Lawrence

So I went on retreat. It was really hard, unplugging entirely and having no access to email or cell phone. At first I was pretty twitchy, but within a few days, began to relax. I stared at light-dappled water. I floated in the lake. I admired the spiders. 

I found myself in a place that encourages stillness, so I could be present with 
the water.
the loon.
the boat.
the tree.
the sky.
the ant.
the stone.

And in that stillness, while I didn't find all I might have sought, I found some measure of peace and clarity around my life, around coming actions and, finally, around white space.

There are aspects of modern life that require strategy and planning. Times when we long for maps. By remembering we are in this world to explore the uncharted, to take a step forward and another back without it meaning failure, to prepare for a long journey with many diversions, to meet allies and foes, we can plan for strategic retreat and future advances.

A dance, really, one step at a time.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, July 9, 2012

Searching for white space

In the last six weeks I've had only one day without any kind of obligations. This isn't sustainable and so, unsurprisingly, I now have a summer cold. It's foolish of me to push this hard and think I can get away with it. More than that, it's foolish of me to think I can be creative without any time in which to create. How can I create without white space?

I have become a believer in whitespace, in both its necessity and fragility. I began thinking about this in earnest following PopTech 2011, when I listened to a speaker discuss the importance of white space for a creative life. As I listened I found myself weeping, feeling a deep yearning for more white space. Since then I've tried and failed and tried again to create a life rich in white space which may lead to a life rich in creativity.

But what is white space? At its most basic, white space is the portion of the page left unmarked, the space between words, images and other representations. It isn't nothing because it is both the space in which the objects exist and a balancing force. I've written before about the need for white space in storytelling, how the storyteller must leave room for the audience, white space in which the audience can create their own version of the story. Without white space the storytelling experience is, at best, stilted.

So why do I need white space in my life? It might be easier to think of it graphically. Compare the graphic up above with this one.

In one, there is room. There is room for imagination to grow, play, rest, explore. I can add color or just enjoy the serenity of the moment. In this other, I am lost. There is no room. No room for color, for exploration for anything other than that which is most immediate and pressing. (I know, someone could easily make some snarky comments about imagining things in the static. If it makes you happy, go ahead, but I expect most of you know what I mean.)

So what do I do? Right now, I'm finding bits of white space where I can. I'm driving without the radio on. I try and get outside every day. On Friday, I leave for a week in the Adirondacks, where I will have ample white and green space, though I know a week isn't enough to nourish me for a year. It at least gives me a chance to reset and ponder new strategies.

And I ask you, what do you do for white space? How do you find it? How do you nurture it in your life? Let's see if we can find a way to create a white space rest stop in our busy lives and, for just a moment, see what might emerge.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, June 30, 2012

When stories find us

I am at the National Storytelling Conference, a wonderful annual gathering of tellers from all walks of life and all range of experience. It's a great opportunity to hear stories, hone skills and meet new friends.

Truth to tell, I didn't really want to come. I've been very busy and was yearning for a quiet weekend at home. I knew once I got here I'd be glad, but wow, was I grumpy. And when you set out on a journey with that kind of attitude, you are guaranteed a different journey than the one you expect.

On Friday I packed my suitcase and called the cab, thinking if nothing else I'd have a chance to get some writing or reading done on the way.

You know what's coming.

My cabbie was great. Not only did he find a good route from my home to the airport, he loved to talk. And he loved to talk about food. From the moment I got into the cab until he dropped me off at the terminal he was telling me about all the hidden gems in the greater Boston area that I had never found, so many places I couldn't remember them all and started taking notes. He was a man on a mission to share his delight in the delicious.

Okay, so I got to the airport and thought Now I'll have some quiet time. I can read or maybe even write a little. This might have worked had a four-year old not decided that I was her personal plaything. I don't know about you, but a joyful four-year old isn't something generally I want to resist. We played until it was time to board.

Great, I thought, no one is sitting next to me. Now I can read and write a little. Two minutes before the plane door was to be closed, a man ran on board. He huffed and puffed his way down the aisle and plopped next to me, apologizing for being breathless and sweaty. And then he told me he was late because of trafficit'snotlikethatinSpokanehe'sonhiswayhomeaftertwomonthsherebuildingan additionforhiscousinwhowasparalyzedinacarcrash. And then he took a breath. We introduced ourselves. For the next three hours, he told me his story. He told me about his family, his 20-year old cousin who would never walk again. The blueberry farm she grew up on. His mother, his girlfriend, his girlfriend's kids, his photography hobby. By the time we were looking at his photos on his laptop (they were very good) I gave up on reading or writing until sometime next week.

At the airport we shook hands, wished each other the best of luck and I got into my next cab to hear about life in Somalia, African family structure and social safety nets, children and cooking and wives and....

By the time I got to the conference I was already full of stories and warmed up to hear more.

The universe conspired against me, against my grumpy mood and yearning to be alone. I have been reminded of both the power and the pervasiveness of story. It's inescapable, at the conference (for three days I am immersed in the language of story and surrounded by those as passionate about it as I am) and beyond. 

Now, I know story matters. I know we are surrounded by stories, in our bodies, our minds, our architecture, the planet itself. Everything we do has the potential for story. But sometimes, like everyone else, I get caught up in my own crap and overlook the incredible richness and human need for story. I need a whack. My journey here was one whack after another. Duly noted.

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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